The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), acting through the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (the Special Rapporteur), Commissioner Lawrence Mute, expresses concern on the continuing trend of internet shutdowns in Africa, including in Chad, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon and Zimbabwe.
In Chad, users started experiencing a shutdown of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp on 28 March 2018. Over 300 days later, the government of Chad has still not restored access to the platforms.
In Sudan, the Government shut down social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook on 21 December 2018, amid protests over economic hardships in the country which in due course escalated into demands for the resignation of President Omar al-Bashir. Key telecom companies including MTN Sudan, Zain Sudan, Kanartel and Sudatel were blocked from providing internet services.
In the DRC, the Government blocked the internet and social media on 31 December 2018, following the conduct of polls on 30 December. These services were not restored fully until 20 January 2019 when the Constitutional Court confirmed the win of Felix Tshisekedi as president elect.
In Gabon, the government ordered internet shut down on 07 January 2019, following a military coup attempt. Connectivity was restored on 08 January 2019.
In Zimbabwe, on 15 January 2019, following a directive by the State Security Minister, internet service providers shut down the internet. While the ban was lifted on Wednesday 16 January 2019, leaving only a ban on social media platforms, another full internet shutdown was ordered on Thursday 17 January 2019, effectively leaving a majority of Zimbabweans without access to the internet. Commendably, on 21 January 2019, the High Court in Harare ruled that the internet shutdowns were unconstitutional and ordered the restoration of internet access.
The Special Rapporteur notes that internet and social media shutdowns violate the right to freedom of expression and access to information contrary to Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The internet and social media have given voice to the people of Africa who may now discourse on social, economic and political issues far more than ever before, and states should not take away that voice. Citizens should not be penalised through shutdowns when they demonstrate calling for economic or political reforms or indeed during contested electoral campaigns or polling as has happened most recently in countries such as the DRC, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
The Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Internet, adopted in 2011 by special mandate holders on freedom of expression and access to information from around the world, stresses ‘the transformative nature of the Internet in terms of giving voice to billions of people around the world, of significantly enhancing their ability to access information and of enhancing pluralism and reporting’. States therefore have an obligation to promote universal access to the internet as it facilitates the fulfilment of other rights.
Furthermore, the African Commission, through its Resolution of 2016, stresses that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.
The Special Rapporteur calls on African states to take all measures to guarantee, respect and protect the right to freedom of expression and access to information through ensuring access to internet and social media services.
Banjul, 29 January 2019
 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, adopted on 01 June 2011
 Resolution ACHPR/Res.362 (LIX) 2016 on the Right to Freedom of Information and Expression on the Internet in Africa, adopted during the 59th Ordinary Session, held from 21 October to 04 November 2016